Will the Holocaust Denying “Bishop” Deny his Denial?

Bishop Richard Williams, the fake British Bishop that Pope Benedict recently readmitted into the Catholic fold, is going to have to eat some crow it seems:

In a statement issued Wednesday, the Vatican Secretariat of State said that Bishop Williamson “must absolutely, unequivocally and publicly distance himself from his positions on the Shoah,” or Holocaust, or else he would not be allowed to serve as a bishop in the Roman Catholic Church.

The guy has balls, that’s for sure — first he had himself  ordained without the Vatican’s permission, then he gets himself excommunicated by Pope John Paul II — all the while walking around saying things like this: 

There was not one Jew killed in the gas chambers. It was all lies, lies, lies. The Jews created the Holocaust so we would prostrate ourselves on our knees before them and approve of their new State of Israel…. Jews made up the Holocaust, Protestants get their orders from the devil, and the Vatican has sold its soul to liberalism.

But will he have the balls (or is it spinelessness?) to stand up and recant his years of anti-semitism? Oh, I’d love to see it — is that petty of me?

In any case, here’s a clip that shows just how smug and dismally uninformed (or is it “in denial”) the guy is:

For a far more thoughtful and complete account of the situation, I recommend going here.

My “Blind Faith” in Science

 I am accused of having all sorts of faiths and religions. Not believing in God is one of my religions (they say)  counting the things I see, hear, and taste as evidence is among my faiths. Opining the divisive nature of Holy Books is a further article in my faith-pantheon — being willing to express that opinion is my zealous religiosity. Defending unbelievers’ rights to advertise their views makes me an intrusive and righteous missionary — criticizing the dangerous beliefs of others casts me as an agent of intolerance and a fanatic for my faith.    

Interestingly, these accusations come from those who openly have (and feel free to express) their faith in God — that is, from people who have religion. Now I don’t want to make too much of this, but I do wonder, why do minds prepared and conditioned to think religiously find in all other minds religious thinking? The response to a belief about the non-existence of God? Religion they say. An opinion about the role of religious belief in a modern society? That’s nothing more than a faith position.

And here’s the topper — they say these things to denigrate the unbelieving view. It is as if they are saying, “Your position is a load of crap because it’s just like mine.”

Er… what?!

But okay, I hear ya…  I mean, we’re talking about positions that are (at least for the moment) pretty darn unprovable. Sure, God could step-up and kill the debate should He, in His eternal wisdom, choose to do so — but then, that’s difficult to do if you don’t exist…  I mean, not for God of course — He could prove His existence while not actually existing, He is, after all, God 

Anyway, my point is that they can call my unbelief in God “faith” — that’s cool, but can’t we just stop there? Do believers really need to stretch the term faith to include what is (and ought to be) the antithesis of faith? Do they have to render in faith-terms the discoveries and successes of science? More and more I see references to the “Church of Darwinism” or the “Temples of Science.” Not only do religious folks wish to categorize any belief statement as faith, but also those statements that are grounded in the most rigorously and fully-tested discoveries of science.

Why does this way of viewing science persist? In my opinion it stems primarily from peoples’ lack of awareness as to how science “is done.” It is not obvious to people that a free-market of ideas goes on in science (for grant money, for status, for fame). As in other fields of human endeavor, scientists are working to be first — they often treat fellow scientists as foes and are competitive even among those with whom they are in agreement There is no monolithic “science” — it is a profession whose participants have distinct and various personalities, ethics, motivations, desires, etc…

But from the perspective of regular people (non-experts, non-professionals) it is difficult to know where to put one’s trust — especially with all this competition and non-aligning motivations that crowd the laboratory (and the newsroom) of science. Meanwhile the language and ideas of the professionals have become so specialized (and will only become more so) that even those who wish to untangle the “truth” can become hopelessly lost without the guide of a PhD. In other words, the folks who believe in “science” may know no more about a given topic than folks who have blind faith in their religion — adding to this quandary, sometimes science gets things wrong.

Yet key and fundamental differences separate science and religion. First, when science does get it wrong, it works to get it right — even when it gets it right, it works to getting it righter. Science never sleeps — science, as a foundational principle, is never satisfied. Furthermore, upheavals and overthrows in science, though common in media headlines, are rather rare. The achievements of science are more like a camera further ratcheting down its lens — bringing things (most often called reality) into a sharper and tighter focus. Newton’s theory of gravity worked for the level of clarity the science of his day was able to achieve. Einstein’s theory replaced Newton’s — the focus was tightened — but Newton’s math is still “right” for the kinds of objects he was working with.

The kind of trust that many have in science and scientific achievement is deserved in a way that cannot be paralleled by religion. Every day we enjoy the fruits of science, that is, technology. We know that science has proved itself — modern medicine has doubled our life-expectancy, we’ve got plasma TV and robot-vacuums, we can communicate anytime and everywhere (though we sometimes wish to be out of touch), we can fly across the ocean doing open-heart surgery on cloned sheep — we have the proof of millions of technological advancements that science, generally, makes accurate predictions and give us the ability to gain (at least some) control over our lives and the things in it…

So what of the original question — is this faith?

It seems to me that faith (as I have stated elsewhere) is belief in something without or in-spite-of evidence. While I call what we have in science trust — that is, belief based on past evidence of success. Science has been successful at making predictions and understanding our world far more than Priests, Shaman, Rabbis, Ministers, or Witch Doctors ever have. One may reply, however, that no scientist can give comfort to a dying woman or a man searching for his “spiritual” center. I disagree.

A scientific understanding of the world does not include merely wires and machinery. It includes psychiatry and psychology, sociology and anthropology. It includes an understanding of how biology impacts our moods and thoughts — and it includes therapies to affect them. I really and truly find comfort in understanding my evolutionary past and the effects of environment on young children — that is, why I feel how I feel, why morals become dilemmas, and why emotions give my life meaning. Understanding the history behind the being that I am helps me to be more complete, and it helps me to be more patient and understanding of others. I am almost certain that I fear death no more than the most eager martyr for Islam or Christian hungry to be with Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. 

Trust in science is not faith because science gives us a reason to trust it, and it is not blind because it lets us see, should we look. Science produces for us, whether we comprehend the technicalities or we just “accept” them. Science does not lurk behind vestments, and the only truths it hides are those I am not willing to work toward understanding. We should not have blind faith in science — nor in anything, and though I cannot evaluate every claim made in every field of study, I don’t need to. I can see the results of our efforts, I enjoy them every day, and not see those successes takes the kind of blindness one usually finds only in religion.

 

Holy Coincidence, I Was Just Talking about This!

Canadian Atheists “Attack”!

You know those bus ads in Britain that say, “There probably is no God”? Well, they are coming to Toronto and at least one evangelical leader is pretty pissed. The Globe and Mail reports the following, quite revealing, quote: 

On the surface, I’m all for free speech. … However, though, these are attack ads,” Dr. McVety, president of Canada Christian College in Toronto, said in an interview yesterday.

Well, that’s the problem with surfaces, isn’t it? They’re so… shallow, so… damn superficial

And does it strike anyone else as odd that to suggest something/someone doesn’t exist should be taken as such an afront? Let’s try replacing “God” with some other terms to highlight this curiousty:

Me: Your mother probably doesn’t exist. 
You: Dude, what are you talking about, I just talked to her on the phone like two minutes ago.
Me: Oh, nevermind.

Me: Your car probably doesn’t exist. 
You: What? I don’t even own a car.
Me: Um… yeah, that’s what I meant.

Me: Republicanism probably doesn’t exist.
You: NOOOOOOOO! You bastard! Stop attacking me!!!

Hate the Tenets, Not the Teneteers

Folks frequently make the following distinction: Respect the religion, but condemn the “bad” things people do for it.

Recently I have spoken out against religion and its tenets of faith for various reasons, among them are terrorism, denying medical care to children, racism (as found in the Christian Identity movement), and missionary work (which, among other things, too-often separates members of the same family into believers and others).

I also sometimes harp on religious beliefs that I see as highly acidic to a cohesive society. I am thinking here, for example, about the doctrine of hell — which I find troubling whether it causes division of not. Let’s say my Christian neighbor wont let his kid play with mine because “that atheist family is going to hell!” Or let’s say that Christian family treats me kindly and neighborly all the while thinking that I, my wife, my child will, eventually, be roasting eternally in torment… I mean, which one is more disturbing?

Then there are the many admonishments in both the Koran and the Bible concerning non-believers — casting them out as evil, unsaved, lost, and damnable…

lack_of_respect

Image Credit

I find this whole respect thing to be both unwarranted and a little bit dangerous. A recent article by Johann Hari in The Independent exposes how “the forces of respect” are lining up to erode freedom and to institutionalize prejudice, chauvinism, and certain kinds of violence. The article centers on efforts by some Muslim nations to alter The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which 60 years ago declared that “a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief is the highest aspiration of the common people.” They claim it is simply not “respectful” to religion. 

And because the UN has bowed to this religious cry of disrespect, the objections have spread. Hari writes:

The Pakistani delegate recently demanded that his job description be changed so he can seek out and condemn “abuses of free expression” including “defamation of religions and prophets”. The council agreed – so the job has been turned on its head. Instead of condemning the people who wanted to murder Salman Rushdie, they will be condemning Salman Rushdie himself.

Anything which can be deemed “religious” is no longer allowed to be a subject of discussion at the UN – and almost everything is deemed religious. Roy Brown of the International Humanist and Ethical Union has tried to raise topics like the stoning of women accused of adultery or child marriage. The Egyptian delegate stood up to announce discussion of shariah “will not happen” and “Islam will not be crucified in this council” -– and Brown was ordered to be silent.

Hari also points out that a quick perusal of last week’s news can give us plenty of good reasons not only to disrespect religious beliefs, but to actively oppose them:

In Nigeria, divorced women are routinely thrown out of their homes and left destitute, unable to see their children, so a large group of them wanted to stage a protest – but the Shariah police declared it was “un-Islamic” and the marchers would be beaten and whipped. In Saudi Arabia, the country’s most senior government-approved cleric said it was perfectly acceptable for old men to marry 10-year-old girls, and those who disagree should be silenced. In Egypt, a 27-year-old Muslim blogger Abdel Rahman was seized, jailed and tortured for arguing for a reformed Islam that does not enforce shariah. 

So yeah, I’m pretty much all for not respecting religious beliefs. As many others have claimed, no one has a right not to be offended — I needn’t stop talking because you don’t like what you hear. I will continue to challenge. Here is a nice closing quote from Hari’s article:

All people deserve respect, but not all ideas do. I don’t respect the idea that a man was born of a virgin, walked on water and rose from the dead. I don’t respect the idea that we should follow a “Prophet” who at the age of 53 had sex with a nine-year old girl, and ordered the murder of whole villages of Jews because they wouldn’t follow him…  I don’t respect the idea that we may have lived before as goats, and could live again as woodlice. This is not because of “prejudice” or “ignorance”, but because there is no evidence for these claims. They belong to the childhood of our species, and will in time look as preposterous as believing in Zeus or Thor or Baal. 

If Faith in God to Heal your Child Is not Faith – What Is It?

On a couple of my previous posts, particularly this one, How Religion Does Not Save (about the children of “faith-healing” parents), and this one, “Because I Love Her” Is a Rational and Logical Response, the discussion seems to return to “what really qualifies as faith.”

I defined faith as belief in something without or in spite of evidence.

Once when I was  in conversation with a Catholic missionary discussing this topic, he said his faith coincided with reason and that his religious worldview was more rational than mine as a result. He said that he loved learning about new scientific discoveries because they increased his faith. I asked him a simple question. “Is there any sort of discovery that would result in a decrease of faith?” He looked at me puzzlingly for a moment. Then he replied, “No!” I said, “So your faith only slides one way, whether discoveries are made, not made, and regardless of the results of the discovery — the faith-slider simply goes toward increase?” He agreed. So my question is… is this faith? And if it is, doesn’t this deny any room or role for reason?

Now I am an advocate for recognizing emotion as a source of our knowledge and as a large part of our decision-making faculty (that was the subject of my last post). I think that “evidence” comes in a wide array of flavors (such as intuition or instinct). But again, simply recognizing that we may intuit an aspect of “truth” and then allow that intuition to influence our logic, I do not think that is faith… I call that normal human decision-making. What do you call it?

Why I Love “Loving Wisdom”

Today I begin teaching a new semester of Philosophy 111. As I sat last night contemplating what to talk about, I made these notes… and thought I would share them with you…

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Philosophy is the “love of wisdom.” It comes from the Greek phílos (loving, dear) and sophia (skill, wisdom, knowledge). But when I began to read philosophy, it was not for the love of wisdom. I read from a trivial curiosity or, perhaps, a curiosity of what could be made trivial. It was a desire to know — not to understand — what “thinkers” thought. I was not reading to be taught, not to learn, I wanted only to wield those insights in conversation — to have the appearance of being smart. Of course, if I picked up something useful along the way, so much the better, but I remember that in those days the taste of philosophy wasn’t always pleasant – as you may already know wisdom is not always sweet, and it seldom satisfying. It is sometimes salty, sometimes bitter, sometimes spicy. It can be a mouthful of sand, and sometimes philosophy can taste like nothing at all.

Those were the days of lottery philosophy — hoping for a payoff without a big investment. Then, somehow, through an odd and fortuitous sequence of events, I ended-up a philosophy major in college. It was then I started to look to philosophy for answers. I didn’t expect a fully-formed set of instructions (this was not religion after all), but I hoped for answers that might strengthen my bearings in the world, give me a stable orientation, comfort. I hoped philosophy would teach me what sort of being a human was — and what sort of human being was Tyson Koska. In its accumulated wisdom, I hoped to find a metaphorical armchair, a comfy, fluffy spot to observe the world. But that isn’t what I found. I found a hole.

And the more I studied, the deeper the hole. The more I dug into the details of philosophy, the more it seemed to disconnect itself from the world — it seemed, almost, unwise in its microscopic attention to argumentative detail, to its all-consuming fervor over pinpoints of logic, rock-hard technicalities, and a few random/sandy metaphysical flourishes of thought — fact and feeling, reason and intuition, virtue, conviction, and passion. Wisdom is, if not infinitely deep, impossibly wide. You can get lost in those thoughts, in the dug-out caves of complex ideas, of insights both dirty and depressing… that is, until your spouse or child or parent calls to you from the next room, pulling your head out of that monumental idea and displacing it with the need to make dinner or take out the trash…

But let us say you keep digging, you dig so ridiculously deep and below anything seemingly real that you, at some point, probably unwittingly, pop out the other side. Let us say you dig yourself back into the sunshine. Now that is philosophy. What do you see in this new sun? Well, you see that dinner needs to be made and that the garbage needs taking out — that everything has, if only vanishingly significant, importance — it’s got its place. So too does the moment of your child’s first steps, or your grandmother’s funeral, or the day you fell, or will fall, in love. Everything is quite literally integral to everything. The daily detritus of living, the flashing moments of importance — the menial is lofty and the lofty is menial.

What you take from philosophy is up to you. You can get lost in the details and never emerge, you can disregard those same details as so much mental masturbation — or you can make careful observation and critical thinking a part of your life. What you do with the things you learn can be life-changing in importance. Will you say, “Oh yes, very interesting, that makes sense” and then go on believing whatever it was you believed before? Or will you let the implications of your knowledge become part of a new and expanded worldview?

What I have learned is that philosophy will not make you clever, and it certainly will not give you answers to live by — but it can make you comfortable in a world with so many competing and seemingly conflicting answers. Maybe it’s not the comfy, fluffy armchair I’d hoped for, but it can give you the tools to navigate, not just your intellectual, but your lived-world. As I have come often to reapeat: If life is an ocean, then philosophy is learning to swim.